For some reason, learning how to set sleeves into blouses or dresses can cause some sewists to break out in hives. Part of the reason for this struggle can be poor pattern-drafting. Hear that! Not.Your.Fault!
But with a properly drafted pattern you can often set the sleeve in without adding an easing stitch to your sleeve. What I mean by a properly drafted sleeve is one with a high sleeve cap that only has about 1 inch or less of difference between the armscye stitching line and the sleeve stitching line. When the sleeve stitching line is only 1 inch longer than the armscye stitching line, you rarely need to run a gathering (easing) stitch to set in the sleeve. Don’t believe me? Here’s how to do it:
1. Start pinning sleeve to the armscye of the shirt, matching beginning, ending, front notches, back notches, and shoulder seam first. So far NO EASING. The sleeve and the shirt body should be matching at a 1:1 ratio from the edges to the notches.
NOTE: You should now see that the sleeve is slightly bigger than the armscye, and slightly more so between the shoulder and the back notches than the shoulder and the front notches.
2. Starting at the front notch, roll the armscye and sleeve over your finger. The armscye is next to your finger, and the sleeve on the top. Continue in this manner all the way to the shoulder, easing the sleeve to fit the armscye.
3. Starting at the shoulder, continue in the same manner toward the back notches. You will need to allow a little more of the sleeve to ease over your finger than you did in step 2, or instead of the “finger-rolling” you can just pin with a slight amount of ease on the sleeve side.
4.When you are finished pinning, all of the extra fullness in the sleeve should be distributed between the notches along the sleeve cap.
5. Place your sleeve + shirt body under your sewing machine, with the sleeve against the bed of your machine. By placing the garment “sleeve down” the feed dogs will help ease in the excess fabric.
6. Take a few stitches, and then stop with the needle down in the fabric. Reach between the sleeve and shirt body and smooth the sleeve before proceeding. You will need to do this multiple times when stitching the sleeve to help prevent puckers.
7. With your thumb underneath and remaining fingers on top, grab the shirt sleeve and roll the fabric over your hand. Continue stitching with your hand in this position, pulling gently on the seam as you are stitching to smooth out puckers. You may also need to hold the seam behind the presser foot and pull gently from the back as you are stitching. Don’t forget to stop occasionally and smooth the fabric between the shirt body and sleeve as you are stitching.
9. Finish the sleeve seam as desired, and press the shirt sleeve over a ham with the seam allowance toward the sleeve.
That’s it! If by chance you did get a pucker or two, unpick a few stitches and re-stitch. With a little practice (and a correctly drafted pattern!) setting a tailored sleeve into a shirt is definitely within your grasp. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.